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I Am NASA Stennis: Paula Hensarling

Paula Hensarling portrait
A summer internship at NASA’s Stennis Space Center started Paula Hensarling on her path to becoming a NASA engineer. Hensarling is now chief of the Mechanical Design Branch in the NASA Stennis Engineering and Test Directorate.
NASA/Danny Nowlin

August 26 marks the annual celebration of Women’s Equality Day, and for one supervisor at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, her career shows there is a place at NASA for everyone.

“Anyone interested in a future career at NASA should pursue it,” said Paula Hensarling, chief of the Mechanical Design Branch in the NASA Stennis Engineering and Test directorate. “There are many avenues, such as engineering, communications, legal, and accounting within NASA that are inclusive of all genders.”

Engineering has traditionally been a male-dominated profession, yet Hensarling says young girls should not fear pursuing the profession. Look no further than the Slidell, Louisiana, native’s career trajectory that includes receiving the NASA Silver Achievement Medal, participation in a NASA Stennis Leadership Development Program, and promotion to branch chief in 2022.

“I have been treated equally during my career,” she said. “I strive to perform every task with quality and thoroughness in mind. I believe most other employees respect hard work and dedication to the job, regardless of one’s gender.”
A recent survey confirms Hensarling’s experience. Indeed, NASA ranks as one of the nation’s best employers for women, based on a Forbes and Statista poll of more than 60,000 U.S. employees in companies with at least 1,000 employees. Respondents ranked their companies in several categories, including representation of women in upper management and pay equity. NASA ranked in the top 10% of employers on the list and was the only federal agency listed.

For Hensarling, her NASA career began working as a NASA summer intern for three summers as she earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Auburn (Alabama) University. She worked at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans for two years following graduation. When an opportunity at NASA Stennis presented itself, she eagerly applied for it.

I knew it was the place I wanted to work from the great experience I had as a summer student.

Paula Hensarling

Paula Hensarling

NASA Engineer

“I knew it was the place I wanted to work from the great experience I had as a summer student,” she said.

Now a resident of Mandeville, Louisiana, Hensarling came to NASA Stennis as a mechanical design engineer contractor in 2000 and has since earned a master’s degree in engineering management from the University of New Orleans as her NASA career has taken flight.
After 12 years as a contractor, Hensarling became a NASA civil servant as mechanical design engineer, where she has worked on projects at multiple test complexes throughout the south Mississippi site. She served as deputy branch chief of the Mechanical Design Branch from 2020-22 and provided support for Green Run testing of NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) core stage at NASA Stennis prior to the successful launch of Artemis I.

Hensarling now supervises a diverse group of mechanical engineers, who provide design engineering support to propulsion test projects, including the SLS program at the B-2 Test Stand, and various special projects at NASA Stennis and across the agency.

“I knew working at NASA Stennis would be a great opportunity following my time as a college student intern, and it continues to exceed my expectations,” she said.

For information about Stennis Space Center, visit Stennis Space Center.